There are far more people in the world who don’t fit perfectly into the categories of “male” and “female” than there are members of the Church of the Nazarene.
In the beginning, God created Adam and Steve. I use this wry opening to make us think about whether or not a hypothetical homosexual “Steve” could sit alongside our view of God’s perfect creation without needing to “fix” anything. We acknowledge Adam and Eve, and yet many of us fail to validate the spectrum of humanity between the two in any significant or authoritative way. We have other examples of bodily differences we accept without feeling the need to change them, and that is precisely the itch I would like us to scratch in this essay. Why do we accept some differences in humanity, and seemingly not accept others? I believe it is because we still think that LGBT people have a choice in the matter. I will try to dispel this myth, and in so doing, point a way to a better doctrine of humanity and perhaps theology as a whole.
Let us begin with the complicated ways God has created our bodies, and realize any theology we create needs to encompass and positively include all forms of humanity God has created. Atypical variations of the body can be observed within nature, and although in the minority, these variations are within a natural spectrum of God’s creation. An intersex person, for example, is a person born with a combination of both male and female biological traits (they have one or more sexual characteristics that are atypical for their sex). This differentiation can affect chromosomes, hormones, gonads, or genitalia too. Let’s look at some of the numbers to see why this matters.
There are more intersex people alive than there are Nazarenes worldwide. There are 2,640,200 Nazarene members. And it is estimated that up to 1.7 percent of the entire 8 billion human population has an intersex trait. In addition to specifically intersex traits, approximately 0.5 percent of people have clinically identifiable sexual or reproductive variations (malformations or deformities of sexual organs). With 8 billion people alive, that’s 40,000,000 clinically identifiable intersex people (15 times the global Nazarene membership), with up to 136,000,000 people (51.5 times global Nazarene membership) with various states of sexual traits (malformations of a singular sexual body part). That’s just the physical “plumbing” of a person. There are variations in the code as well as the hardware. Chromosomes themselves have variance and there are six sexes (biological karyotype sexes) that do not result in death to the fetus:
- X—Roughly 1 in every 2,000 people has Turner’s Syndrome, that’s 4 million people globally.
- XX—Most common form of female.
- XXY—Roughly 1 in 500-600 people has Klinefelter Syndrome, globally 13-16 million people.
- XY—Most common form of male.
- XYY—Roughly 1 in 1,000 boys has XYY Syndrome, that’s 8 million people globally.
- XXXY—Roughly 1 in 17,000-50,000 has XXXY Syndrome, that’s 160,000-470,588 people globally.
And even with males who are fully chromosomally XY, the hormones can misfire completely, such as in the case of people with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. These chromosomal males physically develop as female. That’s roughly 160,000-400,000 people globally.
So, despite what we think the Bible says, God did not make them only “male or female.” To blindly cling to a binary is to discount real chromosomal variations, and to ignore these variations is to deny a deep and actual reality within our humanity. And if you accept the text as written, it says God made them “male and female,” (Genesis 1:27) which is an inclusive term. In the same way that God is not the Alpha or the Omega, but God is Alpha and Omega, (Revelation 1:8) and everything between the Alpha and Omega, God made male and female and everything in between. Our theology must positively include everything which God has made.
If you can see the rich diversity by which God has made human bodies, we must be willing to accept that God surely has made us as diverse in our psyche, or mental representations, and such diversity in our psyche is no more sinful than the ways God has made us physically. To be clear, I’m not saying chromosomal variations come close to explaining all the variations of LGBT+ people at all. I would argue most of the diversity of people’s sexuality is precisely in the software running between our ears. But let us shed this idea that our mental orientations are in any way sinful, or somehow more sinful than the ways God has created our physical bodies.
To some in the faith, it seems completely reasonable that the faithful can “pray away the gay.” I know. I’ve tried. While attending Nazarene Theological Seminary I had a friend from my Bible study group come to me and confess I was one of the first to find out he was a “gay Christian.” I begged him right then and there at 10 p.m. to go with me to a local 24-hour-praying church where we could go and I could pray for him around others. Reluctantly he obliged, and I prayed with all the emotional energy I could muster to God to change this man in all the ways I know “God wanted”. My arms were surging with electrical energy like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. I felt like God would certainly zap a crater into the ground beneath us if I had asked for harm instead of healing. But after an hour of laying my hands on him in earnest prayer, pulsating with prayerful energy, there was no release of energy, nor did God “fix” my gay friend. Leaving in defeat, my friend confessed that he had prayed for years to not be gay. It’s from this personal story that I believe, as well as from scientific data that supports, being gay is mostly something that cannot be changed. I have heard of very few people in the faith that have somehow changed orientations, but those are very rare outliers among the many Christians who are LGBT+ and, out of pressure from the greater Christian community, do not wish to be LGBT+. Even with the power of prayer and fasting, and laying on of hands, they can’t seem to change, or it seems that God won’t change them. Statistically, the majority who have sought a change in their orientation have been harmed in their attempts at change. Yet I was led to believe, in my Nazarene experience, that as a faithful Christian, I can and hence should “pray away the gay.” Imagine if all families in our churches were constantly met with such negative expectations to “fix” their children through prayer? And yet we ask the LGBT+ families to stay in church and continually accept the abuse of our hurtful theology.
So what is a better theology? I am unsure I can answer that, let alone in the time we have. But seeing the ways in which we are has shown me the faults in our theology, both practically and theoretically. I am personally left to believe that God has created all of us in the way God intends to create us, including a hypothetical Steve, and all those in the LGBT+ community. I personally find creation via evolution to be a more comprehensive and compelling foundation for discovering the-God-that-is compared to accepting a systematic theology we were handed which is based upon the creation account(s) found in Genesis. It is apparent to me that God relishes diversity rather than idealistic and static perfection. Even within the whole of the greater Church, we see the splintering of diversity in our belief systems, and I personally see the benefits of these divisions. And although it may pain the Nazarene reader to consider it, I believe God would be happy with a division among the Nazarenes on these points if it comes down to it, not only for diversity’s sake but for the sake of fully loving and including our LGBT+ family.
Forest Fisk is a straight, fourth-generation Nazarene, NNU and NTS graduate with honors, and lives in the Kansas City area. Forest is in the process of deconstructing his Nazarene theology and is on his way out of the Nazarene Church for various reasons.